GplusE: Genomic selection and Environment modelling for next generation wheat breeding

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: The Roslin Institute

Abstract

Despite its importance and growing demand within the UK, and globally, the rate of increase in wheat yields on UK farms have stagnated. To meet global future demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow to at least 1.4% and increasing the rate of genetic improvement using modern approaches is one way to do this. The ability to record vast quantities of genetic and phenotypic information cheaply (e.g. genetic markers and spectral images of field trials - termed in this proposal as Genomics and Phenomics) presents a new opportunity for increasing the rate of genetic improvement.
The rate of genetic improvement is affected by (1) the accuracy of selection, (2) breeding cycle time, (3) selection intensity, and (4) the amount of genetic diversity to be selected upon. In the medium to long term, concerns about genetic diversity are being addressed through national and international projects to introgress traits and alleles from landraces and progenitor species. However, the major barrier to the immediate increase in the rate of genetic improvement in wheat is the length of the breeding cycle time. Even at their fastest wheat breeding programs require at least four to six seasons to complete a cycle, principally due to the time required to reduce the number of individuals for selection to a subset that can be intensively phenotyped. Genomic selection (GS) is a new breeding tool that, amongst other advantages, can dramatically reduce breeding cycle time as selection can occur without the need to record phenotypes. In wheat this means breeding cycle time could be reduced to one season, dramatically increasing the rate of genetic improvement. In the extreme, using glasshouses to complete 2 cycles of selection per year, 10 cycles could be undertaken in the 5-year time frame currently taken for a single selection cycle.
GS uses a training population that is phenotyped and genotyped to construct a prediction equation. This equation is used to predict the breeding values of unphenotyped individuals, which, in wheat, would allow reduction of the breeding cycle to one season. GS assumes that saturating the genome of all individuals with molecular markers and estimating the effect of these markers (i.e. training the prediction equation) will allow capture of a large proportion of the genetic variation caused by the underlying quantitative trait loci. If the proportion of the captured genetic variation is large and well estimated the prediction equation will be able to make accurate predictions about breeding values. Similarly, in Phenomics the phenotype could be saturated with descriptors, which could lead to a better separation of its environmental and genetic components as well as generating more precise phenotypes.
Creation of training populations is a required investment for GS and strategic use of resources to achieve the required size is needed to optimize the cost and benefit of GS. Use of a genotyping and imputation strategy is paramount for reducing costs. Field trials are also costly. Use of novel high-dimensional approaches for capturing extra traits and variables (Phenomics) could enhance the value of field trials generally, as well as enabling more powerful GS.
This proposal will use field trials and simulation to design and evaluate Genomics and Phenomics strategies for increasing rates of genetic improvement in wheat. This will include GS training population designs and low cost collection of genotype data, assessment of the properties of high-dimensional environmental descriptors and quantification of their power, assessment of the properties of trait phenotypes collected by high-dimensional data recording devices and quantification of their relationships to standard traits. Results will be generalised to other species with breeding programs similar to those of wheat as well as to other type of experiments and field trials (e.g. National List evaluations).

Technical Summary

This proposal will develop and evaluate strategies for next generation wheat breeding based on the use of Genomic and Phenomic data, which can now be recorded in large quantities cheaply. It will bring "Big Data" to wheat breeding. Genomic selection (GS) could revolutionize wheat breeding: cycle times could be shortened; accuracy and intensity of selection maintained or increased; and more widespread selection for hard to measure traits could be undertaken. The key advantage of GS in comparison to traditional breeding is the ability to use high-dimension genetic marker information to make accurate predictions of genetic value for selection candidates without having to wait for phenotypes to be collected.
Analogous to GS, Phenomics uses instruments to record high dimensional phenotypic (e.g. spectral images) and environmental (e.g. soil electro-magnetic imaging) data. These may be determinants or indicators of complex trait phenotypes such as yield. More accurate modelling of environment and phenotype could enable faster genetic improvement in wheat, or increased efficiency of assessment in any field trial. Phenomics is highly valuable for wheat breeding. This project will scale that value to field level, enabling it to drive genetic improvement.
This project will use a large field trial combined with simulation to study the key factors in the application of GS to wheat breeding: training population design and genotyping strategy. It will integrate GS with Phenomics so that they empower each other.

Planned Impact

Genomic selection and Environment modelling for next generation wheat breeding (GplusE) links Phenomics and Genomics to deliver to the wheat breeding community a platform to greatly increase the rate of progress possible through breeding. Wheat is the UK's major crop and has the 3rd largest production of any cereal globally. This project has the potential to benefit individuals and organisations worldwide for whom improvement in wheat yields is important. This ranges from farmers in the developing world, through millers and bakers, to anyone buying bread in their local supermarket. The impact of the methods we develop will be seen first by the UK wheat breeders involved in this project, with delivery of improved varieties to market in the following few years.
More specifically:
The commercial breeding partners will benefit immediately by:
1. Initiation of propriety training populations of direct relevance to their breeding programs;
2. Protocols for cost reduction of genotyping by use of imputation and of phenotyping by remote capture of covariates;
3. Access to data generated in the project and to source code for programs required to implement GplusE.
Other breeders will benefit by publication of protocols for the application of GplusE within their own breeding programmes, including access to compiled versions of software developed within the project. This will be available following their publication.
Agronomists and field crop researchers will benefit from exemplars of the use of Phenomics and precision agriculture to improve the accuracy of treatment comparisons in field trials, for example in trials comparing agronomic inputs.
Suppliers of precision agriculture services and genotypes will benefit from new market opportunities in supplying services to field trials operators, including breeders.
The academic crop research community will benefit from improved techniques for field trials and demonstration of how novel physiological and other traits could be incorporated into breeding programmes within a quantitative genetics framework.
Longer term (>8 years) the linking of Phenomics and Genomics may result in development of varieties more adapted to specific environment conditions allowing, for example, automated switching of varieties during drilling to match micro-environmental conditions. This benefits the farmer in improving yield and the environment by reducing inputs currently required to compensate for variety weaknesses.
NIAB / RI will benefit from exposure to complementary expertise in each other's institutes. For NIAB this will result in improved application of big-data methods to their research interests in agricultural science and genetics. For RI, it will open opportunities for broader application of its quantitative genetics research and future funding and collaboration with both private and public sector crop and plant science communities.
The PDRAs funded by this project will benefit from contact with each other and with staff outside their host institutes. They will gain knowledge and expertise beyond the confines of their project areas.
This project will genotype, phenotype and analyse 3,000 lines. The size of the project and the disciplines involved, encompassing quantitative genetics, molecular genetics, plant physiology, Phenomics and agronomy will provide opportunities for training of scientific and technical staff in these fields. The research will also generate opportunities for field visits and workshops to stakeholders from outside RI and NIAB. NIAB Innovation Farm showcases innovation in agriculture, provides free support and assistance for small to medium businesses in the East of England and hosts national and international workshops. This infrastructure will be used to inform a wider public and scientific community.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Gorjanc G (2018) Optimal cross selection for long-term genetic gain in two-part programs with rapid recurrent genomic selection. in TAG. Theoretical and applied genetics. Theoretische und angewandte Genetik

publication icon
Johnsson M (2019) Removal of alleles by genome editing (RAGE) against deleterious load. in Genetics, selection, evolution : GSE

 
Description 1. We have developed novel strategies for the utilisation of genomic selection in pre-breeding programs in crops (Gorjanc et al., 2015) and within crop breeding programs themselves (Gaynor et al., accepted), for the efficient generation of genomic data in crops (Hickey et al., 2015; Gorjanc et al., 2017; Gorjanc et al (accepted)) and for the design of genomic selection training sets in crops (Hickey et al., 2014).
2. The principles that we had previously established on the effective design of genomic selection training sets apply to crops.
3. The simulations of our strategy for the utilisation of genomic selection in crop breeding programs show that if it was used crop breeding programs could increase the rate of genetic gain three fold.
4. We have been able to extend our simulation program AlphaSim (for simulating sequence, genotypic, phenotypic, and pedigree data) to a range of crop scenarios, adding several new features that apply to crops, allowing breeding programs to be simulated rapidly performing sensitivity analyses on key parameters of interest. We have used it to assess genotyping strategies in crop breeding programs (Gorjanc et al 2016). Given the potential of AlphaSim, and its increased use by the academic community, and we have recently developed a Graphical User Interface (AlphaSim GUI) that will make the use of AlphaSim much more accessible to a wide range of users.
Exploitation Route The first steps are already in place building on the industrial partnership award. We are aware that this technology also has interest, ultimately, for pharmaceutical companies and other industrial biotechnology companies.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description They have contributed to changing the approach to plant breeding, accelearting change and introducing new genomic technology into the modus operandi of plant breeding companies.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Enabling and optimising utilisation of potato gene-bank resources
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Funding ID WT iTPA PIII-012 (209710/Z/17/Z) 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 01/2020
 
Description Newton Fund Workshop Brazil
Amount £52,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 228949780 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 09/2016
 
Description Newton Fund Workshop Mexico
Amount £37,550 (GBP)
Funding ID 2016-RLWK7-10399 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Optimising selection and maintenance of diversity in plant breeding
Amount £18,045 (GBP)
Funding ID BBSRC IAA PIII-036 (main award R45393) 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 11/2019
 
Description GplusE consortium 
Organisation Elsoms Seeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Execution of field trials Collecting phenotype data Creating and processing of genotype data Data analysis
Collaborator Contribution Created test crosses Supplied seeds
Impact Journal publications (partially still in preparation) Genotype data sets Phenomics data sets
Start Year 2015
 
Description GplusE consortium 
Organisation KWS UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Execution of field trials Collecting phenotype data Creating and processing of genotype data Data analysis
Collaborator Contribution Created test crosses Supplied seeds
Impact Journal publications (partially still in preparation) Genotype data sets Phenomics data sets
Start Year 2015
 
Description GplusE consortium 
Organisation Limagrain
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Execution of field trials Collecting phenotype data Creating and processing of genotype data Data analysis
Collaborator Contribution Created test crosses Supplied seeds
Impact Journal publications (partially still in preparation) Genotype data sets Phenomics data sets
Start Year 2015
 
Description GplusE consortium 
Organisation RAGT Seeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Execution of field trials Collecting phenotype data Creating and processing of genotype data Data analysis
Collaborator Contribution Created test crosses Supplied seeds
Impact Journal publications (partially still in preparation) Genotype data sets Phenomics data sets
Start Year 2015
 
Title AlphaPlantImpute 
Description AlphaPlantImpute is a software package designed for phasing and imputing genotype data in plant breeding populations. AlphaPlantImpute can be implemented within and across bi-parental populations to phase and impute focal individuals genotyped at low-density to high-density. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This package was found to be extremely useful by our project partner global breeder KWS Saat SE. 
URL https://alphagenes.roslin.ed.ac.uk/wp/software/alphaplantimpute/
 
Title AlphaSim 
Description One of the fundamental questions in populations dynamic is assessing how changes in the current structure and environment affect the structure composition in both the short and long-term. Plant and animal breeding programs benefits from having a tool to evaluate the potential of different selection strategies or new emerging technologies to improve population performance. Empirical datasets to assess the effect of different factors on one population are difficult to collect, since they require substantial financial and time investments and are subject to noise and error. Simulation is a key tool for both researchers and breeders to assess the impact of different factors given a known historical and current population structure prior to implementation within a real-life setting. AlphaSim is a fast and flexible software tool that enables researchers and breeders to do this. Unlike other simulation tools, AlphaSim has the functionality to manipulate fine details of the population structure in order to simulate realistic scenarios and provides detailed outputs for use in downstream analyses. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact AlphaSim is a freely available software package that simulates genetic population and can assess breeding programs. The AlphaSim package includes a manual, tutorial, and access to technical support with the aim of benefiting the academic research community in animal breeding. This software package has already attracted users from a number of different academic institutions and has supported a number of peer-reviewed academic publications. These publications include: Potential of gene drives with genome editing to increase genetic gain in livestock breeding programs. 2017. Gonen, S, J. Jenko, G. Gorjanc, A.J. Mileham, C.B.A. Whitelaw, J.M. Hickey. Genetics Selection Evolution, 49:3. AlphaSim: Software for Breeding Program Simulation. 2016. Faux A. M., G. Gorjanc, R. C. Gaynor , M. Battagin, S. M. Edwards, D. L. Wilson, Sarah J. Hearne, S. Gonen, and J. M. Hickey. The Plant Genome vol. 9, no.3. AlphaSim is not only used in academic research, but has also attracted industrial collaborations. One such example is our recently awarded Innovate UK grant in collaboration with Driscoll's. 
URL http://www.alphagenes.roslin.ed.ac.uk/alphasuite-softwares/alphasim/
 
Title AlphaSimR 
Description AlphaSimR is a next generation software package in the line of our successful earlier package AlphaSim. The new package is accessible in a user-friendly way via an interface in the public domain environment R. The package is used for stochastic simulations of breeding programs to the level of DNA sequence for every individual. Contained is a wide range of functions for modeling common tasks in a breeding program, such as selection and crossing. These functions allow for constructing simulations of highly complex plant and animal breeding programs via scripting in the R software environment. Such simulations can be used to evaluate overall breeding program performance and conduct research into breeding program design, such as implementation of genomic selection. Included is the 'Markovian Coalescent Simulator' ('MaCS') for fast simulation of biallelic sequences according to a population demographic history [Chen et al. (2009)]. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This package has rapidly expanded our possibilities to apply breeding simulation in research projects, both in academic research projects and for the breeding industry (most notably Driscolles and Bayer). Several graduate students used the package for their internship projects. 
URL https://alphagenes.roslin.ed.ac.uk/wp/software/alphasimr/
 
Description AlphaGenes Twitter channel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The AlphaGenes updates the scientific community and a broader audience about news around our research group, scientific output and engagement activities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020
URL https://twitter.com/Alpha_Genes
 
Description AlphaGenes website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The AlphaGenes website informs the scientific community about the groups research activities, outputs, courses and available software tools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019,2020
URL https://alphagenes.roslin.ed.ac.uk
 
Description Big Data in Agriculture, Part of the DuPont Pioneer Plant Sciences Symposia Series, at Roslin Institute, 14-15 May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Symposium held at the Roslin institute, organised by members of my group, sponsored by third parties from the breeding industry
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Co-organized workshop "Simulation of Genetic and Genomic Systems" at Plant and Animal Genome xxviii conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop was held for the first time in the worlds most important Ag-Genomics meeting. It made academic and industry scientists aware of the power of simulation as a important emerging research discipline in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.intlpag.org/2020/
 
Description Course on The Next Generation Breeding (Iowa State University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We organised a course on The Next Generation Breeding at The Iowa State University in Ames in May 2018 to present and teach about our research, principles of the developed methods and application of our software with real data. The course was very well received with plenty of discussions involving both academia, research and industry participants. It also initiated a series of offline research and application discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Course on The Next Generation Breeding (KWS group) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We organised an internal course on The Next Generation Breeding at The KWS group in Germany in Einbeck in March 2019 to present and teach about our research, principles of the developed methods and application of our software with real data. The course was very well received with plenty of discussions involving both academia, research and industry participants. It also initiated a series of offline research and application discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Course on The Next Generation Breeding (University of Zagreb) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We organised a course on The Next Generation Breeding at The University Of Zagreb (Croatia) in July 2018 to present and teach about our research, principles of the developed methods and application of our software with real data. The course was very well received with plenty of discussions involving both academia, research and industry participants. It also initiated a series of offline research and application discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Excellence in Breeding: Breeding Scheme Optimization Tools Training 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Breeders and Quantitative Geneticists play an important role in the seed sector as designers of manufacturing pipelines. In this workshop, the students learned to work with our breeding simulation platform AlphaSimR. The students reported back they had become aware of the power of the simulation of breeding programs, as well as the possibilities to make breeding programs more effective by using less conventional breeding schemes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://excellenceinbreeding.org/module2
 
Description Invited talk at Plant Quantitative Genetics meeting "Genomic and temporal analysis of genetic variance" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Genomic and temporal analysis of genetic variance, UK Plant Quantitative Genetics meeting, 2019-11-07, Birmingham, UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited talk at the Symposium in Statistics on "Modelling Genomic and Spatial Effects in Breeding" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Modelling Genomic and Spatial Effects in Breeding, NTNU Trondheim Symposium in Statistics 2019, 2019-09-28, Trondheim, Norway.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description John Hickey Guest in Farming Today (BBC Radio 4) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On Monday 26th September, The BBC Radio 4 Farming Today had Professor John Hickey as specialist scientist on the subject of breeding programs and scientific impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w5xxq
 
Description Modern plant and animal applied genomics driven by genotype and sequence data, Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Visiting teaching activity with advanced course in plant and animal breeding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Modern plant and animal applied genomics driven by genotype and sequence data, University of Zagreb, Croatia, 17-19 July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop organised and given by me and two other members of my group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Newton Fund workshop UK-Mexico on Genetic Improvement of Populations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Newton Fund workshop UK-Mexico on Genetic Improvement of Populations took place in February 2018 at the Centro Nacional de Recursos Genéticos (Jalisco, Mexico). Participants (undergraduate and postgraduate students, group leaders and professionals) from UK and Mexico exchanged research results and showed applications of genetic improvement in different agricultural populations, including livestock, fish, crops, grasses and trees. I have contributed with a lecture on "Statistical methods for genetic evaluation of populations" and two talks titled "Economics of genotyping for genomic selection" and "Optimising selection, maintenance of genetic diversity and logistic constraints". The local organisers have increased interest in the presented topics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Organization of a Workshop on wood quality in conifer breeding, annual member's day of the Conifer Breeding Cooperative 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 35 forestry practitioners from forest tree nurseries, forest management, wood product manufacturers, government and academia attended a full day workshop involving 1) a demonstration at Nappier University of wood testing methods, 2) 5 presentations by experts in the area of wood properties and 3) round table discussions.
I. PRESENTATIONS
A) Introduction. Why breed conifer trees for improved wood properties?
Prof John MacKay, University of Oxford
The theme of wood properties in tree breeding follows the links between wood properties, timber grading and product recovery in softwoods. Log dimensions, along with external form and defects, and internal properties such as stiffness and specific gravity determine the product type and timber strength. The breeder has a role to play in ensuring that wood properties are favourable for grading and performance of timber. Understanding the opportunities and challenges is the key to setting objectives for the long term.
B)Timber properties and grading for today's market
Prof Daniel Ridley-Ellis, Napier University
This presentation reviewed grading principles and methods applied to softwoods. It showed that there is wide variation in grades within species grown in the UK and small to moderate shifts between species, with larch being an outlier and much higher grades. An overview of different grading approaches included mechanical and acoustic testing, and visual grading. The negative relationship between growth rate and strength was explained. Several considerations were presented pertaining to strength grading; among them, density is not an appropriate predictor of strength, and that strength grading isn't about properties of individual pieces - it's about collective properties of all pieces assigned to a grade.
C)Faster growing trees and timber markets. Considerations for tree breeding.
Dr Paul Mclean, Forest Research
This presentation looked at faster growing trees, primarily genetically improved Sitka. Variation in wood properties depend roughly at equal levels on site effects, inter-tree differences and within tree differences. This is why understanding and optimizing wood properties is complex. British spruce grade is limited by low stiffness, which generally just matches C16 performance, whereas strength and density generally match C20 performance. Stiffness is particularly limiting in the juvenile core, which affects the major cuts of timber as the span the centre of the log (especially in smaller diameter trees). Owing to the relationship between growth rate, site limitations, and juvenile core properties, breeding should aim to improve the juvenile core as a key to obtaining fast growth whilst maintaining a desirable proportion of C16+ timber. The conclusions form this presentation were: 1) Don't ignore stiffness in the core of the tree; 2) Don't ignore the growth dynamics of productive forests; 3) Keep an eye on research; 4) Invest in research.
D)Engineered wood products: an efficient use of resource
Prof Robert Hairstans
This presentation outlined the wide range of engineered wood products, their attractive performance attributes and their advantages including social, economic and environmental benefits. Some of the advantages of engineered wood products is that they are suitable to facilitate a more circular economy and decrease waste. They performance and design advantages mean that they are able to displace metal and concrete, while at the same time having a lower carbon footprint. At present, most of the European production capacity is located in the central Europe. Engineered wood products an attractive utilisation for British grown softwoods and have the potential change future wood uses and markets. The wood quality requirements for engineered products should be taken into account in future proofing tree breeding strategies.
E)Breeding conifers for wood properties: goals, opportunities, and challenges
Prof John MacKay, University of Oxford
The presentation outlined the significant potential to genetically improve wood quality traits in softwood trees. This opportunity for improvement is underpinned by relatively high levels of variability within species and high levels of heritability of most wood traits. This is well established and has been shown in diverse species including spruces, pines, among others. The potential for improvement creates an opportunity for alignment of tree breeding objectives with industrial needs. The long-term vision for conifer breeding will need to integrate this opportunity and other needs, while conifer growth rates and tree form have been the main focus to date. New objectives may include increased productivity whilst maintaining wood quality, timber yield and product performance, adaptation to changing climate, resilience to pests. To facilitate the integration of several objectives, an "index selection" approach may be used to assign different weights to traits under selection. As tree breeding addresses this challenge, it will also be faced with knowledge gaps to fill, new technologies to develop and implement, and an even greater need to engage with the forestry sector.
II - ROUND TABLE AND PLENARY DISCUSSIONS
Four topics were explored; the discussions are summarized below
1. Conifer breeding objectives - What is the long term vision?
There was a consensus that conifer breeding objectives have to align with product manufacture aiming for high value products such as timber of construction grade, that attention to product grading and performance attributes is crucial and should be emphasized. In addition, resilience to both changing climates and pests represents an increasing concern and comes with new challenges. Diversification to broaden the species portfolio and decrease the reliance on Sitka spruce is also seen as desirable but was perceived as constrained by site conditions and threats from pets.
2. What is the role of wood properties in delivery the vision?
There is a relatively well-understood but complex relationship between timber grading (C16-C24), site constraints and silviculture, tree growth, and wood properties. Increasing yield is a high priority but more rapid tree growth generally increases the juvenile core and the decreases the overall grade of timber. It was agreed that breeding should seek a balance between productivity and wood properties, i.e. increase yields whilst maintaining quality. This means that selection and breeding for wood stiffness should be introduced in species like Sitka spruce. A less strongly held view was to prioritize performance over growth, i.e. aim for C24 and maintain yield, and this may be more easily achieved in other conifers that spruce. Another topic of debate was whether different varieties should be developed for different products, different sites or silviculture regimes. For example, silviculture with or without thinning will produce trees of different sizes and grade potentials.
3. What are the major knowledge gaps?
The discussions identified many knowledge gaps. How much improvement may be expected in wood properties such as stiffness (Sitka) in the juvenile core? What causes frost cracks and is it under genetic control? What are the limits of tree breeding - e.g. can trees be developed that stop height growth when they reach a critical height on windy sites so as to reduce the risk of wind through? To what extent will climate warming decrease sites that are suitable for Sitka and what can be done to mitigate the impacts of dryer conditions? What is the best approach to remain competitive with C24 timber from Scandinavia and continental Europe?
4. What are the sector engagement needs?
A major need for engagement is with timber processing and marketing about the quality and value of British grown timber and the benefits of tree breeding. Engagement with community and environmental groups is also crucial about the social and environmental benefits of commercial forestry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public engagement at the Royal Highland Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All members of the research group engaged the visitors of the RHS, to show the importance of their research towards the enhancement of the agricultural sector in direct or indirect ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.royalhighlandshow.org
 
Description Researcher Links workshop at CNRG, INIFAP, Tepatitlán and Guadalajara, Mexico, 3-7 February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop organised and given by me and the members of my group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Roslin symposium in honour of Professor Robin Thompson 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In June 2018 The University of Edinburgh has conferred the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa to Robin Thompson for contributions to statistics, quantitative genetics, and animal and plant breeding. To celebrate this occasion we organised a symposium at The Roslin Institute in his honour. More than 100 delegates came from Argentina, Australia, Finland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, UK, and USA. Speakers' talks covered animal breeding, statistics in breeding, plant breeding and human genetics, which showed the breadth of impact of the work of Professor Robin Thompson.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Teaching course: Next Generation Plant and Animal Breeding Programs, Animal Science Department, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Series of the lectures and workshops on Plant and Animal Breeding Programs exploring current practices and future areas
of research. The course was designed and imparted by John Hickey and key members of his team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://animalscience.unl.edu/next-generation-plant-and-animal-breeding-programs
 
Description The Expert Working Group on Wheat Breeding Methods and Strategies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Expert Working Group on Wheat Breeding Methods and Strategies seeks to exchange breeding methods research information and germ plasm to expert build capacity and support in wheat breeding programs, with more efficient breeding methods consistent with the latest scientific advances. The EWG is working on activities such us workshops, training courses, communications, and sharing of germplasm and information to reach larger pool of wheat breeders and trained in state-­of-­the-­art breeding methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.wheatinitiative.org/activities/expert-working-groups/wheat-breeding-methods-and-strategie...
 
Description Training: Next generation plant breeding programs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Workshop to teach professionals in the crop breeding sector to use modern bioinformatics tools to process molecular data and simulate breeding programs in order to make these more efficient. The audience was very pleased with their acquired insights and skills, and considered the training extremely useful.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://alphagenes.roslin.ed.ac.uk/wp/teaching-2/kwsgermany/